Paula Cook spent the majority of her life helping people, sharing laughs and making those around her always put a smile on their faces. On Christmas Day, those smiles began to fade as they began to mourn her death.
Cook died of long-running heart issues that morning at Carroll Hospital in Westminster at 62 years old, her son Brandon Brown said.
Cook was born and raised in Westminster, where she raised her three sons: Brandon, Blake Brown and Sky Teel. But beyond her own sons, she acted as a mother to many others. Cook fostered more than 190 kids from Baltimore over the course of 13 years until she stopped around the mid-’90s, according to Blake.
“She loved helping kids and giving kids a chance that didn’t have a chance,” Blake said. “No matter how long she got to keep them, just being able to influence them and being able to have a positive influence on the children. Some of the kids, I consider brothers and sisters, even when they got out the system.”
Blake and his two brothers grew up with a lot of other children, but that only expanded their family.
“It was just like having a lot of brothers and sisters. Some didn’t stay long, some were very short term and then there were some that were long term," Blake said. "My mom just told us how these kids were unfortunate and we’re helping out.”
According to Brandon, the foster kids were always treated equally as him and his brothers.
“Whenever she got a foster kid, she always wanted them to know that ‘you’re one of us,’ ” he said. "So, if they came to us with just the shirt on their back, I remember my mom would go to Walmart or Kmart, and she would just buy them a ton of clothes because she wanted them to feel like they were equal.”
After her time fostering, she worked as a substitute teacher and participated in a foreign exchange student program. According to Blake, Cook would find housing for about 24 students who would be in the Carroll County Public Schools system. Cook would also make sure the children had a good time while here by taking them on trips — such as to amusement parks, or even New York or Washington, D.C.
Blake and Brandon are both thankful for the upbringing their mother provided them and appreciated the life lessons she taught them.
“No matter what anybody does to you, no matter what anybody says to you, treat them how they want to be treated,” Brandon said, regarding what he learned from his mother. “Whether they treat you will respect, still give them respect. She was real big on that, she always gave everybody opportunity, no matter what their background was.”
“I just learned that there’s so many gifts,” Blake said. “The gift of giving and being selfless, it’s way more important than the physical things because she had so much love around her. I think that’s the biggest thing, just trying to empathize and love people; she definitely was a loving person."
Those close to her would describe Cook as being kind and caring.
“Everybody called Miss Paula either ‘Aunt’ or ‘Mom,’ ” said Laura Vonella, a family friend. “The way that she affected the people around her — to be around her was to be happy. You could not have a sad face on; if there was a problem she was going to solve it.”
“She always had time for people, didn’t matter what, she always had time,” said Teresa Daigle, Vonella’s mother and a longtime friend of Cook. “She always had this cheeriness about her, which was really wonderful.”
Cook’s sons are currently using the website GoFundMe to try and crowdfund money to give their mother a nice funeral. Their goal is to raise $10,000, and as of Monday evening the campaign had raised over $2,100.
“For me, it wasn’t her time, and that’s the hardest thing for me,” Brandon said.
Aside from her three sons, Cook was survived by: her grandchildren Aayla Brown, Alyanna Sims, Brinlee Brown, Braxton Brown and Caleb Teel; her brothers Douglass Cook, Tommy Cook, Benjamin Cook and Nathaniel Cook; and her sisters Roselle Dorsey, Cindy Cook, Darlene Blackman and Dolores Blackman. Cook was predeceased by her brothers James Cook and Major Cook, and her sister Majorie Brightful.